An Interview with Steve Rosen of the Kansas City Star

My regular readers might recognize the name Steve Rosen because I have linked to several of his articles recently. Steve has a weekly column in the Kansas City Star, which is also synicated in several newspapers across the country. His speciality is writing about kids and money, a topic near and dear to my heart as my wife and I have three kids of our own. Anyway, Steve and I have communicated over the last couple of months via email and I asked him if he would be so kind as to let me interview him. He said “yes,” and here’s the interview. I hope you enjoy it! Thanks Steve!

JLP: You have been writing about kids and money for six years. What made you decide to focus on this subject?

SR: I was looking for an outlet to start writing again. I’d been a personal finance reporter at The Star my first eight years here, covering banking and investments, before becoming a business editor. Mixing kids and money was an opportunity to combine two of my favorite topics. And with three kids of my own, I figured I’d have a wealth of material to write about for years to come. Finally, I quickly recognized that no one else in the country was writing about kids and money on a regular weekly basis.

JLP: How do you find ideas to write about?

SR: Basically, I’m living this every day. I scoop up many of my best ideas at our kitchen table. My kids (two boys ages 20 and 13; and a daughter, 17) are like most other kids. They are interested in cars, cell phones, music. And they all liked to spend mom and dads’ money rather than their own. Also, with our oldest now in college, there are many issues on this topic to write about. I try to personalize the columns as often as I can, everything from writing about buyer’s remorse after paying way too much money for an aluminum baseball bat for my youngest to a car shopping experience with my oldest.

I also coach a girl’s soccer team and teach once a week as a volunteer in a high school economics class. By being around kids and talking and listening, you’d be amazed at column ideas that crop up. The cost of prom, the financial damage to your cell phone bill from text messaging and so on. I also read a great many magazines and newspapers and try to stay topical on issues involving saving for college and financial education.

JLP: What topic has received the most reader response?

SR: Easy. Cars, allowance and saving for college – for that matter anything dealing with kids and college life. Summer jobs is a favorite topic too. Believe it or not, of all the columns I’ve written over the years – and I’ve never missed a week – one column that I wrote a few years ago that took grandparents to task for spoiling the grandkids got the most heated response from readers. I upset the grandparent lobby, including my own mother. Ouch!

JLP: At what age should parents begin teaching their kids about money?

SR: As soon as kids can tell the difference between a penny and a dime. Really when they begin to show interest in wanting stuff. For many kids, that’s between little tike age and pre-school. That’s the time to start working on the basics of saving, deciphering needs and wants and delayed gratification. As kids get older, and particularly when they starting earning a paycheck, parents can ratchet up the teaching. I write all the time about how parents can find moments of everyday life to make a point about money matters rather than sitting the kids down for a lecture. Lecturing doesn’t work well, I think. Come to think of it, I don’t like being lectured to either.

JLP: What should be the purpose of an allowance? What’s a good rule-of-thumb for the amount a child should receive and what should it pay for?

SR: My feeling, and I know it is not universally shared, is that you should give your kids an allowance strictly to teach money management skills. I don’t believe in tying chores to an allowance. That’s not to say kids shouldn’t be expected to help out around the house, but don’t tie the allowance to completing the work. Then, you’re making things more difficult, coming up with lists, signing off on chores, making sure they were done satisfactorily or making sure they were done at all. You want your kids to learn to handle their own money, no strings attached.

Rule of thumb? I’m probably on the cheap side, as my kids have pointed out. I figure a dollar for every grade of school or years of age. So a 10-year-old would receive $10 a week. Make sure you pay consistently. Whatever the amount, make sure it fits into the parental budget – that you can afford it. Don’t skip a week here and there, and later try to make it up. Review the amount every year and listen to your kids if they want to lobby for a raise that goes beyond the basic annual adjustment.

What should it pay for? Every family has different financial needs so be realistic. Encourage your kids to save a bit for short term and long goals, and to spend some, and to donate to charity. Kids need to spend some of their money, so they can learn to shop and become good consumers. As kids get older, I think you can begin to expect them to use their money to buy more things, such as clothing for school, movie tickets, gasoline.

Part 2 to follow shortly.

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